Tuesday, December 28, 2004

In response to "seeking is in"


I read your blog posts (you've been busy) and was
going to respond, but then it wanted me to fill stuff
out and I'm just not that patient tonight. So you get
an email.

Two things struck me in your posts:

1. "I find seeking much more productive now that I'm
not bound to predetermined conclusions."

I should think so. This is probably true of any
endevour that involves more work from above the neck
than below. In fact, I think that "seeking"
pre-determined conclusions is really justifying what
you already believe in. (Or at least what you think
you're supposed to believe in.) "Seeking," as I
understand modern hip Christians to mean the term, at
least involves, and may be defined by, an open-ended
test of your faith. If you really believe that what
you believe in is the Truth, then setting out without
a map should eventually lead you there anyway, perhaps
with a good deal of enlightment along the way. I'm
not sure how well it works, but it certainly sounds
more spiritually adventurous than chewing on
centuries-old theological doctrine.

Truth be told, I'm somewhat partial to the idea of
seeking for two reasons; 1) it abandons doctrinal
thought in favor experiential learning, and doctrine
leads to institutionalization, and I HATE
institutions, even the ones I'm in. (This could be
the subject of a much longer rant. Suffice to say
that since I discovered the falibilty of authority
around about sixth grade, I've been on a downhill
slide of challenging Those In Charge ever since. Now
I do it professionally.) 2) Seeking seems to fit my
lifestyle. I've never really had a plan, I just sort
of ended up here by doing whatever intereting thing
popped up next. I'm not sure if sought or just
sumbled upon things. This leads me to the next
logical question or two (which I can pose but not

When does one go from "seeking" to "drifting"? And is
"drifting" a bad thing?

We'll take that one up at a later date. Now what was
that other thing that you wrote that caught my eye?
Oh, yeah:

2. "I've heard arguments that this particular God is
hopelessly contradicatory and absurd, and I'm trying
to figure out if there is any possible way to
reconcile these beliefs with reason."

Woo! There's a doozy! You need a bigger blog. My
initial response is: What's so great about reason?
Yes, perhaps I just made your head spin a bit, you who
are so taken with the scientific method. I have one
(big) answer. Reason allows us to understand how
things interact in the natural world, and from that
understanding we can, at least for a little ways out,
Predict The Future. That's nothing to sneeze at;
22,000 people in Asia could have used a little more
predictive power recently. If there is one thing that
is even more certain than death or taxes, it is that
time only flows one way for us. Being able to
predict how things will play out along that arrow is a
definite improvement for us. But it's not everything.

There are things, important things, to which reason
and logic simply do not apply themselves. My
anti-trust professor once asked our class to give him
an example of one thing in society that could not be
properly governed by the laws of free-market
economics. The older non-traditional student in the
back took the wind right out of his sails by shouting
out "the love between a mother and her child." Love,
altruism, and fairness are all examples off the top of
my head that are orthogonal to reason. Fittingly (it
seems to me), they also play prominant roles in most
religions. Perhaps the Truth that the religious
amoung us seek lies on a different axis than that of
rational or scientific truth.

Which brings me to what might be the theme of my
thoughts tonight. From what little I've read about
you so far, it seems that your crisis in faith came
about when you couldn't make your religion jive with
what science taught you about the natural world. I
can't fix that, but I might encourage you to consider
whether your the inconsistencies you found involved
the details of your doctrine or more fundamental
princinciples of your faith. Church, after all, is an
institution (there's that word again, tellingly) that
is run by people, and we're bound to screw it up
somehow. After all, if you're really an atheist, why
worry about seeking and faith at all? Isn't that just
a bunch of mythology that distracts us from a purely
logical explanation of the universe? True
unadulterated atheism just seems so cold. You still
seem very concerned with compassion for others, and
that is the basic value that many wonderful, devout
people that I have known had for themselves. Of
course, I can say that for secular humanists, too.

So, I don't know. Some things to think about. Good


P.S. If you haven't read it yet, I would highly
recommend "timequake" by Kurt Vonnegut. It's short,
funny, and describes what being a secular humanist
means for him.

My Response:

Thanks for the response. I was hoping I would get a
few of these kind of responses from the blog.

Seeking and drifting? I guess "seeking" implies a
bit more of an end goal, while "drifting" does not.
Maybe they are the same in a lot of cases. Beats me
. I think the institutional thing gets me as well. I
can't believe that something is true just because
someone in power somewhere has declared it so.

I understand reason is not all powerful. But I think
I'm giving it a broader scope than you think--in my
thinking it would even help us understand the
evolution of such things as love and altruism. It
may seem crazy, but think about if human nature was
just all "me, me, me." There is safety and comfort
in numbers. A person without friends and family is a
miserable person. And a person who steps all over
everyone they know for the sake of getting ahead is
a person who will end up with no friends. Even
people who selflessly give themselves to charity
work or such things get some personal satisfaction
from it. I don't think this is at "right-angles" to
reason at all--it's all a matter of what people

The older non-traditional student in the
back took the wind right out of his sails by
shouting out "the love between a mother and her child."

I think that that student made a really good point.
From when I took economics, I remember how they
would make arguments using charts, etc, to decide
what is the correct course of action to take for an
organization. Naturally, all the numbers did not
account for things like, say, the welfare of the
employees and their families or the mores of the
culture in which the organization was located. Nope,
the numbers give a really narrow view. But I don't
think that accounting for the human factors is
contrary to reason--it just means that the situation
is much too complex and messy to be quantified. The
laws of free-market economics don't account for the
human factors either. I don't think that having a
bit of socialism mixed in the system is a bad thing
. . . but that is a topic for another time.

Interesting statement about atheism--on it's own it
just means "no belief in a god." As for why someone
who does not believe in a god would care about faith
and such and seeking? Why not? It was my seeking and
experiences that lead me to atheism in the first
place. I'm convinced that there is a whole lot out
there about the universe that we do not know, and we
may not even have the capacity to know. Like how the
universe began and will end, and what is beyond the
universe, and what came before it. Nature is so
grand that it just blows my mind. This is why I also
call myself a pantheist--because Nature is the
closest thing to divinity that I believe exists. So
now I've gotten out of the purely logical and right
into the emotional. I only care that the things I
believe do not contradict reason, not that they can
be flawlessly explained by it. (Same with God, BTW.
If he were real, I wouldn't expect people to be able
to reason him out. It's when the various attributes
given to God are self-contradictory and contrary to
the world as I know it that I have problems.)

I'm very interesting in learning about various
religious traditions because I think that there is a
lot of good stuff there. It's just that I think that
it all came, ultimately, from human sources.

BTW, do you mind if I post this conversation?
(He has since responded that I may.)

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